Bill Cutter – A Peerless Aviator
All I needed to do was post the picture shown above. That photo is the essence of my aviator pal, Bill Cutter, and the reason he is so revered in the aviation community. His majestic D-17S Staggerwing Beech in the background and there stands Sir William surrounded by a bevy of beauties all equating to heightened envy for we mortals!
Yet, there is a heck of a lot more to the story!
The History of Cutter Aviation & Cutter Flying Service
A Story of America’s Oldest Continually Family Owned & Operated FBO Network
Most folks have already Gone West when I tell their story. A couple aren’t and one was then wasn’t!
Jay Prochnow is still on the green side of the grass and so is my pal Larry Duthie after having been thought dead in the jungles of North Vietnam for four decades. Their stories are within this site along with a coupladozen others.
Another very much alive flyin’ buddy is Bill Cutter an octogenarian aviator. There aren’t many! Sir William represents that group with aplomb. Like me he had his parental influence.
Below: William P. and Virginia Cutter two of aviation’s finest representatives.
Here’s his amazing story and that of the very colorful Cutter Family who have done much to enrich aviation in America and, in particular, the southwest.
The above photo of Bill’s dad, William P. Cutter who was a colleague of my own father. Both were Beechcraft dealers in the early days. Aviation makes the world amazingly small. Back in the 20s and 30s it was ever so more so.
Walter Beech on the left with Travel Aire Z4D “Cotton Duster”
Below: Walter Beech on the Walker Ranch in Wyoming with “Speedy” our pet antelope
Above: William P. Cutter with Walter H. Beech at Wichita Kansas
Delivery of one of the first new “V Tail” Model 35 Beechcraft Bonanzas circa 1947
Below: William P. Cutter inventing back-country flying in the 20s’
The tall slender fellow isn’t a Cutter, but he’d likely wished he was! Charles A. Lindberg visiting the Cutter’s Albuquerque Base.
W.P. Cutter with Waco UPF-7
Bill’s brother Sid Cutter (1934 – 2011)
Sid, as with his brother, Bill, was a pioneer hot air balloonist who founded the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Nearly a half-century ago the first event began an annual fall festival making Albuquerque the capitol of ballooning.
A former Air Force pilot, Cutter had not been schooled in ballooning when he accidentally went aloft in 1971 when a crew member released a tether. Fortunately, he was a “fast learner,” according to the Iowa National Balloon Federation. “I got hooked on balloons right off the bat,” Cutter told The Times in 1985.
To help an Albuquerque radio station mark its 50th anniversary in 1972, Cutter held a hot-air balloon rally and race that began in a shopping mall parking lot. The 13 competitors drew an unexpectedly large crowd of about 10,000, the Associated Press reported in 1997.
Last year’s nine-day festivities drew about 500 balloonists and an estimated 810,000 spectators, according to organizers. “As the founder of the Balloon Fiesta, he put Albuquerque on the map for many around the world,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry said in a statement.
Cutter also produced the first World Hot Air Balloon Championship in 1973 and held it in Albuquerque. More than 130 balloon crews from 14 countries participated in the event, which helped establish the city as a “mecca of ballooning,” the museum said.
Sidney Dillon Cutter was born May 9, 1934, in Albuquerque to William P. Cutter and Virginia Dillon Cutter, who founded Cutter Flying Service in 1928. His grandfather, Richard C. Dillon, was New Mexico’s governor from 1927 to 1931.
As a child, Cutter learned to fly while sitting on his father’s lap and legally soloed for the first time at 16. He spent two years at the University of New Mexico and a semester at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
In 1955, he joined the Air Force and flew cargo around the world until 1960, when he rejoined his family’s aviation business. For more than a decade, he served as the company’s president. After buying his first balloon in 1971 in honor of his mother’s 62nd birthday, he increasingly turned toward the pursuit.
He formed one of the world’s largest balloon clubs and founded the World Balloon Co., which taught piloting and performed at promotional events. The company also built two of the world’s largest thermal airships, according to the balloon museum.
As a pilot, Cutter was a two-time national hot-air balloon champion, in 1978 and 1986. While trying to explain the appeal of an antique form of aviation, Cutter once told The Times: “It’s like floating through the air on a magic carpet ride.”
Sid’ wife, Jewel, his wife of 31 years; a daughter, Sheryl, six grandchildren and brother Bill survive.
The CUTTER name became synonymous with Aviation in the greater southwest. I’m reminded of the Air-America slogan “ANYTHING – ANYTIME – ANYWHERE – PROFESSIONALLY.” Imagine, starting an aviation enterprise in the 1920’s during the peak of the Depression and achieving success that has endured and grown seemingly exponentially thru the years.
Bill with a Damn Good Airplane (Howard DGA-15)
I’d be smilin’ too if I had that airplane!
No name in aviation is better known nor more respected in the American Southwest than Cutter. A pioneer barnstormer who gave the Navajo Indians their first taste of flight, the late William P. Cutter began a family tradition in aviation that has no equal. In 1928 he and his wife Virginia founded Cutter Flying Service in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a business that would involve second and third generation Cutters as it steadily grew. The firm trained U.S. naval aviators and military glider pilots in World War II and later became one of the country’s top centers for Beechcraft sales and service. The company opened its Phoenix facility in 1958 and, under the leadership of son William R. (Bill) Cutter, it has become a major factor in the Arizona economy. In recent years Cutter also expanded operations into Texas. Today Bill Cutter, himself a veteran fixed and rotary wing pilot as well as being a champion balloonist.
Below Bill & Will Cutter; WRC balloon w/chase crew; Bill & granddaughter, Brooke; Bill, surrounded by a balloon hoard is, again, the center of attention. Ladies or balloons or airplanes, he seems to stay surrounded! Magnificent!
Bill’s son, Will, heads Cutter Aviation’s tri-state network now but Bill still plays a key counselor role in the development of civil aviation in all three states. And it’s likely the Cutter family tradition of providing professional aviation services of the highest quality will continue for many more years to come.
Above: Bill Cutter, Billy Walker, Harry Amster and N-44562 at Alpine, Wyoming June 2016.
The story of Cutter Aviation follows the story of the birth of modern General Aviation in many ways. Before the passage of the Air Commerce Act of 1926, most aviation activity in the United States was completely unregulated and lacked standards for pilot licensing, aerial navigation and airspace, aircraft registration, aviation businesses and air charter operators — and as a result safety and consumer protection in any aviation activity was at an all time low. After the passage of the Air Commerce Act, legitimate aviation businesses started to take shape nationwide — with official licensing to do business at an airport or operate aircraft. In fact, the term used to describe an aviation business serving General Aviation at an airport… a “Fixed Base Operator” or “FBO” comes from that original 1926 act.
MM flying Silver Lining in Monument Valley
Above: I’m flying the Val Vista Lakes ballon with MM almost ready to launch below me.
I first met Bill Cutter through my sister, Mary or “MM,” as most called her. MM was into hot air ballooning. She even had her own hot air balloon, “Silver Lining.” Gone West in 2016, MM’s grandson, Walker Korell, had MM’s balloon tattoo’d as a tribute to his “Nana.”
Considering Cutter Aviation (or Cutter Flying Service as it was known originally) started doing business only two years after the passage of the Air Commerce Act, Cutter’s history parallels the dynamic history of General Aviation in America through today.
In the Beginning
Cutter Flying Service Inc. was founded in 1928 by William P. Cutter to serve a fledgling aviation community in the Southwestern United States from its birthplace in Albuquerque, NM. Cutter Flying Service survived the Great Depression and World War II by providing needed air charter to reach ranches, towns and businesses scattered across the rugged landscape of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. In addition, Cutter Flying Service offered aircraft sales, line and fuel services to transient pilots as a Phillips 66 Aviation fuel dealer beginning in 1938, and aircraft maintenance to support the growing number of aircraft in the Southwest.
William R. “Bill” Cutter & his Mom, Virginia
Cutter During World War II
At the outbreak of World War II, when much of General Aviation and the businesses that supported it came to a halt, Cutter Flying Service became a pilot training provider for the United States military to stay in business from 1941 to 1945. In addition to basic flight training, many pilots were trained for glider operations, and the U.S. Navy designated Cutter as a Naval Air Training School as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at its primary business location at West Mesa Airport in Albuquerque.
It was during this time that young Bill was enrolled at New Mexico Military Academy in Roswell. In case there are people sensitive to the shenanigans of youth, young Cutter’s activities during this period will be left to the imagination.
My Dad’s company, Plains Airways, was William P Cutter’s counterpart. Plains Airways operated three CPTP schools in Cheyenne, Laramie and Ft. Morgan. Ft. Morgan, Colorado was the pre-glider training contingent. More on this is found in Walker Bunch – Part One herein.
Post-War Growth for Cutter
As American life returned to a state of normalcy after the end of the war, so did Cutter Flying Service. A growing business, reflecting the trend of prosperity that was being enjoyed by most of America in the post-war years, Cutter began a long-standing affiliation with the Beechcraft Aircraft Corporation in 1947 and remained one of the most successful dealers of new Beechcraft Aircraft for over 62 years. Along with aircraft sales, Cutter became widely known for aircraft maintenance service supporting Beechcraft as well as many other General Aviation aircraft being built during this time, and continued to offer fuel service and operate on-demand air charter. Cutter moved to the larger Albuquerque International Sunport in 1947 as activity at West Mesa Airport began to decline, but continued to offer refueling from West Mesa until the late 1950’s.
Expanding the Cutter Aviation Network
Expanding West, Cutter Aviation, Inc. located at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, first opened its doors in 1959 and offered aircraft sales, maintenance and charter to support the growing city of Phoenix. In 1988, Cutter Aviation opened a brand-new FBO facility on the South Side of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and consolidated its aircraft sales, maintenance, and charter to the new facility and started providing fuel and line service. The new facility became the company headquarters for Cutter Aviation as well, though the Albuquerque location remained a full-service facility.
Establishing a second Phoenix facility in 1997, Cutter Aviation opened its Deer Valley Airport location in 1997 to support the quickly growing General Aviation airport in North Phoenix. A year later, Cutter Aviation San Antonio, an aircraft maintenance and sales facility, opened in 1998 and the Dallas-Addison (ADS) and Colorado Springs (COS) locations opened in 2006. Aircraft Sales has always been a core part of the business and as a result, Cutter Aircraft Sales has grown and added new dealerships as the company has grown. In 2004 Cutter Aviation became the dealer for new Piper Aircraft for the state of Texas under the Texas Piper name. Cutter Aviation also became a dealer for Daher Aircraft and is the current dealership for the Daher TBM line representing Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. In 2006, Cutter Aviation established HondaJet Southwest, the Southwestern United States dealership for the revolutionary HondaJet advanced light jet developed by the Honda Corporation. HondaJet Southwest will provide sales and service for the new HondaJet for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Clark County / Las Vegas, NV, Southern California and Hawaii.
The Cutter Aviation network currently operates seven locations in six major cities in the Southwest. The Phoenix Sky Harbor, AZ (PHX), Phoenix Deer Valley, AZ (DVT); Albuquerque, NM (ABQ); and Dallas-Addison (ADS) facilities are full-service, fixed-base operations as well as aircraft sales, maintenance and avionics, and aircraft charter and management. The Colorado Springs, CO (COS) location provides line services for transient & based aircraft. The San Antonio, TX (SAT) facility offers new & pre-owned aircraft sales and aircraft maintenance services only.
Cutter Aviation is a member of the Pinnacle Air Network, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). Bill Cutter is a fellow QB and stays active in our pilot associations throughout TVOTS (The Valley of the Sun). Bill’s magnificent Staggerwing is a favorite arrival at the many fly-ins and airshows from Texas to California and Arizona to Idaho. Below: Bill, Harry, and me over Idaho. Photo by Tom Hoff from Bob Hoff’s beautiful Staggerwing.
In 1995 Bill (L) and his father, William P Cutter were enshrined in the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame
BELOW is a photo of Bill, his magnificent D-17S “Staggerwing” Beechcraft, and your’s truly. Bill invited me along on a couple of his memorable flights in a very memorable airplane.
I was raised with Beechcraft aircraft. I was almost born in a D-18 “Twin Beech.” The ubiquitous Staggerwing and, later, one of the first “V Tail” Bonanzas are the focus of some early memories. I almost said “growing up” with these marvelous airplanes. But “growing up” hasn’t yet happened!
I told my Dad I wanted to be a pilot just like him when I grew up. He said, “Son, you can’t do both!” I reckon he was spot-on with that.
As I write this, Bill, Harry Amster, and I are planning another great flight to the Round Engine Round Up (RERU) held annually in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Hoff Family are the complète hosts! I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas mornin’! I can’t wait!